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Cats Ringworm







What is ringworm, and what causes it?

Ringworm is a skin disease caused by a fungus. Because the lesions are often circular, it was once thought to be caused by a worm curling up in the tissue. However, there is no truth to that; it has nothing to do with a worm. There are four fungal species affecting cats which can cause the disease that we call ringworm. These may also affect dogs and humans.


The fungi live in hair follicles and cause the hair shafts to break off at the skin line. This usually results in round patches of hair loss, with noticeable scales. As the fungus multiplies, the lesions may become irregularly shaped and spread over the cat's body.


How long does it take to get it?

The incubation period is 10-12 days. This means that the exposure to the fungus and thus, the actual infection occurs 10-12 days before any lesions occur.


How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made in one of 3 ways:

  • Identification of the typical "ringworm" lesions on the skin

  • Fluorescence of infected hairs under a special light (however, only 2 of the 4 species of fungi fluoresce)

  • Culture of the hair for the fungus. This last method is the most accurate, but it may take up to 2 weeks for the culture to become positive.

How is it transmitted?

Transmission occurs by direct contact between infected and non-infected individuals. It may be passed from dogs to cats and vice versa. It may also be passed from dogs or cats to people and vice versa. If your child has ringworm, he or she may have gotten it from your pet or from another child at school. Adult humans usually are resistant to infection unless there is a break in the skin (such as a scratch), but children are quite susceptible.


If you or your family members have suspicious skin lesions, check with your family physician.


Transmission may also occur from the infected environment. The fungal spores may live in bedding or carpet for several months. They may be killed with a dilution of chlorine bleach and water (1 pint of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water) (500 ml in 4 liters) where it is feasible to use it.


How is it treated?

There are several means of treatment. The specific method or methods chosen for your cat will depend on the severity of the infection, how many pets are involved, if there are children in the household, and how difficult it will be to disinfect your pets' environment.

  • Griseofulvin. Griseofulvin should be given daily. Cats with active lesions should receive the tablets for a minimum of 30 days. At that time, your veterinarian should recheck your cat to be sure the infection is adequately treated. These tablets are not absorbed from the stomach unless there is fat in the stomach at the time they are given. This can be accomplished by feeding a high fat diet, such as a rich canned cat food or a small amount of fat trimmings from meats (often available at the meat departments of local grocery stores upon request of the butcher), or by allowing the cat to drink some rich cream. This is the most important part of the treatment. If you are not successful in giving the tablets, please ask your veterinarian for help.

  • Topical antifungal medication. Apply one of these products to the affected areas once daily for 10 days. Do not risk getting it in your cat's eyes by treating lesions very near the eye. Please wear disposable latex gloves.

  • Baths using an antifungal shampoo. A bath should be given 3 times on an every other day schedule. Bathe exposed but unaffected pets once. These baths are important in getting the spores off the hairs so they do not drop into the environment and result in re-exposure. A lather should be formed and left on for 5 minutes before rinsing. Please wear disposable latex gloves. Choose a shampoo with a chlorhexidine base.

  • Lime sulfur dip. This should be done twice weekly for the first two weeks then once weekly for 4-6 weeks. Lime sulfur dip should also be applied to other pets (dogs or cats) in the household to prevent them from being affected. If they develop ringworm lesions, they should begin on griseofulvin. You should wear gloves when applying the dip. This is an effective form of treatment, but the dip has an objectionable odor and can tarnish jewelry.

  • Ringworm vaccine. This vaccine helps the cat to develop immunity to the fungus. Other products are still used with it, but its use will hasten recovery. This is especially important if several other pets or children are exposed.

  • Shaving the cat's hair. The affected area should always be shaved to remove the infected hair. This helps prevent the spread of infection to other members of your household as well as reinfection of the same cat. It also helps the current infection to resolve more quickly. Don't worry — the fur will grow back!

  • Oral Program. Program is a new, very safe and effective oral treatment for ringworm. Give 100mg/kg orally with food once every two weeks for three treatments. Great improvement is not usually seen after the first treatment, but after the second you will see definite clinical improvement.

What should I expect from treatment?

Treatment will not produce immediate results. The areas of hair loss will get larger before they begin to get smaller. Within 1-2 weeks the hair loss should stop, there should be no new areas of hair loss, and the crusty appearance of the skin should subside and the skin look more normal. If any of these do not occur within two weeks, your veterinarian should see your cat again.


How long will my cat be contagious?

Infected pets remain contagious for about 3 weeks if aggressive treatment is used. Contagion will last longer if only minimal measures are taken of if you are not faithful with the prescribed approach. Minimizing exposure to other dogs or cats and to your family members is recommended during this period.


I have heard that some cats are never cured. Is this true?

When treatment is completed, ringworm should be cured. Although a carrier state can exist, this usually occurs because treatment is not long enough, or aggressive enough, or because there is some underlying disease compromising the immune system.